Paranoia causes code-red alert … all due to ‘attar’ or cologne

A popular scent, known throughout the Muslim world as ‘attar’, led to a major disruption at an American airport recently, resulting in a doughnut shop, a pharmacy, and a hospital emergency room, being placed under quarantine.

If one is permitted to laugh at the lighter side of Islamophobic tendencies displayed by over-zealous US security officials, this incident over ‘attar’ certainly would qualify as one.

According to a Reuters report, the incident began at Philadelphia International Airport when a 22-year-old Arab student arrived at a security check-point for a flight to Saudi Arabia.

Though his visa was fine, according to the FBI, the airport security queried a container of liquid in his luggage. In explaining that it was a bottle of attar, the student inadvertently sprayed the two security guards.

What followed can only be described as bizarre. The over-zealous security officials issued a code-red hazardous materials alert, which brought FBI agents, city police, and chemicals weapons inspectors to the site.

Fearing that the ‘attar’ could be a biological or chemical agent, the FBI rushed the guards to a nearby hospital, which quarantined its emergency room until the ‘unknown substance’ was identified.

The US-led ‘war on terror’, which in many respects can be viewed as racist, on the basis of the ethnic and religious profiling of people, can be very costly and hugely embarrassing é as this incident clearly demonstrates.

Sniffing and snooping  – usually identified with clandestine spies é unfortunately did not assist the Philadelphia airport security guards for the whiff of scent failed to titillate their smell.

Instead of smelling and recognizing the perfume, the paranoid guards mounted a chase led on by the scent.

Many such incidents have been reported in America, as well as other parts of the world. South Africa, itself, has not been immune from incidents that stink of Islamophobia.

Not too long ago, an ANC MP was frisked at a local airport where the security officials demanded that he removes his ‘toppee’ (a cotton headgear). The MP, a Muslim attired in traditional garb, was deeply embarrassed and complained bitterly about his treatment that smacked of Islamophobia.

We now have both the ‘attar’ and the ‘toppee’ being targeted as potential weapons of mass destruction. Mosques, too, have not been spared from police raids.

If a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies is to be believed, that South Africa faced a greater threat from “radical Islamic-based terrorism” than from the right-wing, Muslims would be well-advised to brace themselves for more ‘stinky’ operations.

(Mr. Iqbal Jasarat is Chairman of the Media Review Network, which is an advocacy group based in Pretoria, South Africa.)